What “Self-Defense” Really Means

As once stated by English poet John Dryden, self-defense is among nature’s “oldest” laws. This is also a term that many people know, even if they’ve got nothing to do with the legal field. If someone is attacking you, you’re justified in fighting back to avoid harm to yourself.

However, self-defense has its own meaning in criminal law. If you are arrested for a crime where you exercised self-defense, it’s wise to contact a criminal defense law firm in Kent to explain what happened, get the help you’ll need as you navigate the legal system, and protect your rights.

Self-Defense as an Instruction for a Jury at Trial

Self-defense is what is known as an “affirmative” defense.  Instead of denying the criminal act charged, you offer evidence justifying your actions. The goal of a criminal defense law firm in Kent in a case involving self-defense is to avoid any sort of criminal conviction for their client.  In many assault cases, clients say their actions were in self-defense. If the case goes to trial, the jury would be told that acting in self-defense to an assault charge means the force used was legal. When a court allows a jury to hear this instruction, the prosecutor in the case has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the force used by the defendant in the case wasn’t lawful.

Lawful Force–An Overview

What does the term “lawful force” mean, however? This can be tricky, and it’s easier to give an example of what is most likely not lawful. Say, for example, that you get into an argument with your friend. The friend ends up slapping you in your face, and you then take a knife out and stab them. This is likely not lawful–the force you used was excessive and not reasonable in the face of the threat your friend’s slap actually posed. But what if after the friend slaps you, you punch them once or twice–is this lawful? That is a more difficult call, and exactly why you need a lawyer to tell your side of the story.

Defense of Property or Others

Self-defense may go beyond individual people and into the defense of property or other people. Previous court cases have shown that you have to legally own an item or animal before you can claim self-defense in relation to it. Other cases have shown that you may be able to use force against a trespasser who poses a threat, even if you are not entirely sure you are going to be injured by the trespassing party.

In a recent case in a Washington appeals court, a unique area of self-defense came up. In this case, one man was assaulted by another man in a county jail. The man accused of the assault did not testify, but two other inmates did, and they said the man who was assaulted attacked the other man first. In this case, the court did not allow the man who was accused of assault to use a self-defense jury instruct because he failed to testify about his own fears regarding the incident. However, the Court of Appeals ruled that the law allowed the man who was accused of assault to establish his own fear via circumstantial evidence found in the testimony of other people. This decision may help a person in a self-defense case who does not wish to testify but has witnesses to the event who can testify for them.

If you were in an altercation with another person but it was in self-defense, contact a criminal defense law firm in Kent for assistance right away. Any time you’ve felt a genuine threat to yourself, the safety of someone else or your legal property, you do have the right to defend yourself.  However, you need a lawyer to help show the court why it is applicable in your case. Being convicted of assault can mean jail time, fines and having a criminal record that will cause you trouble for years to come, so it’s wise to have legal help on your side if you find yourself in this situation.

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